I didn’t realize until a few years ago, that people actually liked me – for a reason

woman standing alone looking into the distance
I didn’t realize until a few years ago, that people actually liked me – for a reason

Donny always had interesting things to tell me and I enjoyed his company though I never understood exactly why he (or any other student for that matter) talked to me.
From: Fractal: A Memoir. Chapter 1: Part 1 | Auptima Press

In Toni Boucher’s memoir Fractal, she talks about not understanding why other kids talked to her.

This is true for me, too. I didn’t actually realize, until a few years ago, that people actually liked me. And for a reason. Face-blindness (prosopagnosia, for those lexically inclined) is a tricky thing. Not only do I often not realize who people are, for a few seconds (at least) when I first see them, but I also don’t do a great job at reading their inner state from their faces. It’s not that I have no “theory of mind”. I do. Please, God, can we just be done with that misconception, once and for all?!

Anyway, yeah, it’s hard for me to figure out what people are trying to convey to me. And it’s gotten me in trouble lots of times over the course of my life. So, as a kid, I guess I decided to err on the side of caution and just assume the worst about what people thought of me or how they wanted to interact with me.

It simplified things, to tell myself the world basically hated me and wanted to trample me. That was my experience, in any case, so why not just uniformly interpret my surroundings as innately hostile? Time-saver! 😉

Of course, that made it difficult to make — and keep — friends. Well, the whole friend thing was extreme with me, anyway. Either you were My Friend (and only friend), or you were just another body in the landscape of my life, taking up oxygen and demanding my attention. I learned how to interact with people, and I actually always have been a very loving person. But I couldn’t detect it coming back to me. I just couldn’t detect it. Maybe it was because I was so overwhelmed by everything, all the time. No extra energy or attention left over for handling the nuances of loving interactions. Even if I tried, I made such a mess of it, anyway. (I’m still doing it, by the way. At 51 years of age, I’m still screwing up my interpretations and giving people “the wrong idea” by the misuse of prosody, or not monitoring the “affection levels” of my communications. It’s embarrassing. I want to crawl back under my rock.)

But back to detecting (and accepting) affection.

Why would I ever think people would be interested in me? Oh, maybe they “wanted one thing” — I eventually learned that’s where men /boys want to have sex with you and are under the impression they even have a chance with ultra-lesbian me. Huh. Even when I was a kid, I was such a boy, and yet everybody treated me like a girl. How does that work, exactly?

I was a misfit. Out of place. Constantly out of synch. Playing catch-up constantly. I was so busy trying to figure out what the hell was going on, I had nothing left for decoding the intentions of others. So, like I said, I just figured they all hated me or just wanted something from me. And anyone who just wanted to talk to me… Why would they want that?

This state persisted till my mid-40s, when I found someone who was smart enough and empathetic enough to just let me be … a psychologist who was actually able to sit still, shut up, and let me talk without constantly trying to over-analyze me and tell me how I should improve. He just let me be. And over the course of about 8 years of paying Very Close Attention, I learned how to interpret social cues and clues. I suspect he was on the spectrum, himself, but he was also one of the folks who told me I couldn’t possibly be on the autism spectrum, because I could imagine what others were thinking, I had empathy, and I was social, married, and could keep a job.

That wasn’t helpful at all. But in other respects, he was a tremendous help to me, so I can overlook that. Just more background noise, really. Nothing that I haven’t heard before.

So, eventually I realized — logically — that the statistical likelihood of everyone hating me was slim to none. Also, the chances that I was a terrible, awful person were equally slim. Because, logically and objectively speaking, I’m actually a wonderful person with a lot to offer. I’m kind and caring, conscientious and dedicated, loyal (sometimes to a fault), resourceful, inventive, wildly creative, funny, fun to be around, fun to hang out with, I cook a mean stack of pancakes, I’m a loving and conscientious daughter and spouse, and I have done a lot of really good things for people in the world — especially for people who didn’t know me or never knew I existed.

Logically and objectively, that makes me a wonderful person. Even if I don’t feel it in my bones, like I want to, even if I can’t detect it in the reactions of others, I have logic to convince me. So, I work from that.

Just like I used to work from the assumption that I was a terrible, awful person who nobody could possibly love, I now work from the exact opposite.

And that makes all the difference in the world.

smiley face in frowning crowd
I just rely on a very different set of assumptions.
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